Local messages to Vatican question bishop's handling of clergy abuse

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UPDATED: This story was updated to correct details on how much of a $4.5 million clergy abuse settlement reached by the Springfield Diocese in 2008 was related to conduct by its former bishop, Thomas Dupre.

Allies of clergy abuse survivors want the Vatican to investigate the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski's handling of complaints of wrongdoing in the Springfield Diocese, including a former North Adams priest's alleged drugging and assault of an adult parishioner.

And they believe that Boston's cardinal helped them to deliver their pleas to Pope Francis.

Olan Horne, of Chester, a survivor of clergy abuse, says he handed a packet of letters addressed to Pope Francis last fall to a representative of Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of the Boston Archdiocese.

"I ask you [to] remove him temporarily and perform an investigation [of] the Bishop and administration[']s handling here in Springfield MA," Horne wrote of Rozanski in a three-page letter. "He is not capable of the pastoral outreach and understanding that is crucial to today's Bishop or Cardinal.

"Your Springfield diocese needs an exorcism of the past and a change in administrative structure from the top," Horne wrote.

The letter addresses the case of Richard Koske, a South Hadley man who says he was drugged and sexually assaulted two decades ago by the Rev. Eugene Honan, the former North Adams priest.

"Your Bishop is unequipped to be dealing with these wounded and hurting them more by his inactions and blaming others like Rome for the problem," Horne wrote. "We plead for you to help ... now." The packet included letters from a local Catholic deacon, from the daughter of a man who survived multiple assaults as a teen and adult and from the mother whose son was abused by a priest.

Months after sending the messages, no response has come from Rome.

Mark Dupont, Rozanski's spokesman, said the bishop is aware of the appeal to the Vatican.

"Mr. Horne had previously informed the diocese of his complaint filed with the Vatican. He is certainly within his right to take this action, and we would stand ready to cooperate with any inquiry by the Vatican should one be undertaken," Dupont said.

Rozanski is scheduled to visit the Berkshires on Sunday. The bishop will be at St. Joseph's Church in Pittsfield as part of a listening tour in which he has asked Catholics to speak up about the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the church. The session begins at 6 p.m. at the 414 North St. church.

Email correspondence reviewed by The Eagle shows that Vivian Soper, director of pastoral support and child protection in the Boston Archdiocese, confirmed receiving the letters to the pope, as well as a gift. Soper told Horne she passed along the materials to the Rev. Robert Kickham, a top official.

"I delivered the letters and the gift to his office this morning," Soper wrote Oct. 9.

On Friday, Soper referred questions about O'Malley's involvement to Terry Donilon, the archdiocese spokesman. He did not respond to a request that the archdiocese confirm whether O'Malley delivered the messages to the Vatican.

Horne reached out to O'Malley because the two got to know one another in the aftermath of the clergy abuse crisis in the Boston area, where Horne formerly lived. A decade ago, they were together when Horne and four other survivors of clergy abuse met with Pope Benedict XVI while the pontiff was visiting the United States.

"I have no doubt that they were delivered," Horne, in an interview, said of the letters addressed to Pope Francis and relayed to the archdiocese. "They had graciously agreed to take these."

Main complaint

A key complaint outlined in two of the letters is how Rozanski handled continuing anger in the Koske family over the incident involving Honan, the former North Adams priest.

The assault that Koske reported, which the diocese confirms and which led to sanctions against Honan, occurred while Koske was visiting the priest, a family friend, at the rectory of the now-closed St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Northampton.

Several of Rozanski's remarks during a meeting with Koske and his daughter, Rebecca, have been flagged as evidence that the bishop's conduct warrants investigation by church officials.

Rebecca Koske describes that exchange in her letter to Pope Francis. In a message that opens "Holy Father," she recounts her father's assault at the rectory in 1996 or 1997.

Richard Koske says that after being given a glass of Southern Comfort to drink by Honan, he passed out. When Koske awoke, his pants were at his knees and Honan had his hand on Koske's chest.

"I took two sips of the damn thing and was out like a light," he told The Eagle.

Though the diocese paid Koske a $20,000 settlement in connection with that assault, his daughter asked the pope to order that her father's case be reopened, in part because of other instances of sexual misconduct by two other priests.

In a 2011 letter to the Hampshire-Franklin district attorney, the diocese noted all three of those instances of clergy abuse involving Koske.

"You have given people so much hope by your actions and the inclusiveness you preach," Rebecca Koske wrote to Pope Francis. "You are getting people to pay attention to the Catholic Church again. My father is still suffering, and I'm humbly asking for your help."

In an interview Friday in Northampton, Koske said she wonders whether her words reached their intended reader.

"Did he read it? I don't know," she said of the pope. "Does he care? I don't know. I'm left wondering. I got no response."

During her family's meeting with Rozanski, Koske said, the bishop said the church had no protocol for handling clergy sexual abuse matters involving adults. According to Koske's notes, the bishop also said, "It's a European perspective on things and Europeans look at things differently than Americans do."

The family provided documentary evidence of the bishop's remarks regarding "European" views to The Eagle.

Koske said she objected to that characterization, saying the act of drugging and assaulting a person would constitute a crime.

At one point in the meeting, Patricia McManamy, director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection for the Springfield Diocese, asked Rozanski to explain his remarks, particularly whether he meant the Vatican in his reference to Europeans.

"Yeah, it's the Vatican," Rozanski said, according to Koske's notes on the meeting. She said the bishop added: "I think they would parse between a minor and an adult."

In her letter to Pope Francis, Koske asks whether the Vatican "has a `European' way of looking at priests who sexually assault devout adults and what, exactly, that means."

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Dupont, Rozanski's spokesman, said he would not comment on private conversations involving the bishop.

Dupont said that when Richard Koske first came forward, in 2006, he declined to allow the diocese to consider his statements as a formal complaint. Koske and his daughter do not contest that.

Dupont said the diocese acted in 2011, after Koske brought a formal complaint. Koske says he acted after seeing Honan at the altar at St. Patrick's Church in South Hadley.

"It was investigated and punitive action taken against [Father] Honan," Dupont said in an email in response to questions. "The diocese does not dispute the facts concerning Fr. Honan's conduct."

Honan retired in 2010. In 2011, then-Bishop Timothy McDonnell withdrew Honan's "priestly faculties" to minister outside the diocese. He was still allowed at the time to participate in "supervised ministry when he was in the diocese," Dupont said in a 2018 statement to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

The current bishop, Dupont said, has since acted to aid and support the Koske family.

"After arriving in the diocese, Bishop Rozanski became aware that the Koske family was not happy with the sanctions previously imposed and at the urging of the Review Board directed that there be a new review of Mr. Koske's complaint," Dupont said, referring to an internal board that examines abuse allegations.

"As a result, Bishop Rozanski permanently removed Eugene Honan from all public priestly ministry." That step came in 2017.

"Let me reiterate how profoundly sorry the diocese is for what happened to Mr. Koske," Dupont said. "He was not only personally victimized but his trust in his church was also violated. Mr. Koske and his family have every right to be angry."

Honan, who has a home in Middlefield, "has no faculties to serve as a Catholic priest anywhere," Dupont said.

The former priest is now listed by the diocese in an online report as among those "credibly accused" of sexual abuse. Honan was not listed as of mid-January, when The Eagle reviewed it and made a copy.

Dupont said Honan's name, along with that of former Bishop Thomas Dupre, were added after Rozanski said the online list should be expanded to include all clergy removed from ministry because of sexual misconduct.

Honan previously served at St. Francis of Assisi in North Adams, the home church at one time of Richard R. Lavigne, a priest who was convicted of molestation and was linked to as many as 20 instances of sexual abuse. In 2002, when a former St. Francis parishioner revealed his abuse by Lavigne, Honan stood in support of the victim on the steps of the Greenfield courthouse, according to a story in The Eagle.

Other letters

Another message in the packet to the Vatican was written by a Catholic deacon, David Baillargeon, who was pulled from his duties at Holy Family Church in Russell after he questioned Rozanski's handling of clergy abuse.

Baillargeon began his letter "Papa Francis." He wrote about an 83-year-old mother who lost faith in the church because of a priest's sexual abuse of her son, which was reported to the diocese under Dupre's former leadership.

Dupre, who died in 2016, resigned in 2004, after he was accused of abuse. The diocese later issued $4.5 million in settlements to 59 people, including two of Dupre's victims, according to press accounts.  The diocese says Dupre's share of that was $400,000 and that he personally contributed an undisclosed amount to the total.

"Nothing was ever done about it and the priest is still a pastor," Baillargeon wrote of the family's complaint.

"Every story told by the abused or family member should be validated and heard. It is the only way a healing process can begin," the deacon wrote to his father's leader. "What more can I say my friend? I am still crying for the children."

After losing his role at the Russell church, Baillargeon was called to a meeting with the diocese last month. He was given the ability to serve Catholics in Westfield, but not at the church in his home communities; Baillargeon operates an antique store in Huntington.

According to Baillargeon, the priest at Holy Family accused him of misusing the pulpit by speaking out, during a homily he was delivering, about Rozanski's handling of clergy abuse cases.

"They're causing their own problems by not being pastoral," Baillargeon said in an interview in an office at his shop. He said he feels called to help those affected by clergy abuse.

"I just listen to them. They need someone to talk to. That's the most important thing I can do. To help them get through what they're going through," he said. "When people are abused, they get double-abused when people don't treat them right."

Baillargeon said he views his removal from Holy Family as a betrayal.

"You're just trying to do the right thing and you're getting punished for it," he said. "That's exactly what they're doing to me. They're not following their own policy."

Bishop's task

When Rozanski takes his place Sunday inside St. Joseph's Church in Pittsfield, the issue of the Springfield Diocese's commitment to contending with clergy sexual abuse will again take center stage.

Last Wednesday, Rozanski presided at the first of a series of forums on the clergy abuse crisis. The diocese says the sessions are designed to give parishioners a chance "to make their concerns known, offer observations and ask questions of the Bishop and diocesan officials who will join him."

Dupont said the bishop is committed to addressing parishioners' need for openness and action.

"Like all bishops today, Bishop Rozanski has the task of remedying the church's past failures to protect the faithful, especially our younger members and most vulnerable," Dupont said.

"He is 100 percent committed to this effort and the needed reforms," Dupont said of the bishop. "When he speaks of the various reasons we failed in the past and the challenges we face, he is in no way justifying these shortcomings and failures, rather he is bringing them to light so that we might remedy them."

Horne, the clergy abuse survivor and advocate, said he is not expecting the packet he believes went to Rome to bring results.

"We're never going to hear from the Vatican," he said. "People don't want to talk about these things. I was proud to be Catholic. We need to keep knocking on the truth. [The church] needs to see the struggles. They own it. They own this problem in society. This is about parishes standing up. It's up to the Catholics now."

Of that bundle of messages that he and Baillargeon personally delivered to the Archdiocese, Horne said, "We got one behind the curtain at the 'Wizard of Oz.' "

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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